A couple of weeks ago, my external life took a back seat to my internal life. Although my external life is pretty good these days, my internal life is pretty ugly. It is a series of traumatic experiences with emotions to match.
When it is time to pay attention to the internal life, it means my childhood memories are coming back.
And I had better pay attention. I had better be ready for some depression, some sadness, some anger that rivals a toddler’s tantrums, some anxiety and some intense exhaustion. Needless to say, the external life starts to slow down a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, the basic stuff still happens. The kids eat. They go to school. I go to work.
But phone calls get missed. The emails pile up. And obviously, the writing just doesn’t happen.
There are entire nights of staring at the wall. There are a lot of naps. There are many self-care visits to therapeutic practitioners.
Over the years, I have learned what it takes to face the memories. These coping mechanisms are critical to my recovery. If I don’t do them, there will be one result. I will get sick. I will get so sick that there will be no external life. Everything will stop. And as a single mother, that is simply not an option.
The latest memories are intense. As my coping mechanisms get stronger, so do the emotions I must address. These memories are clarifying a few things. First and foremost, I am accidentally alive. I already thought that. But now I know it for certain. The number of times I cheated death seem nothing short of miraculous. I was one heck of a kid.
More important, these memories are identifying some people in my childhood who may be helpful in putting my puzzle together. And for that, I am grateful.
I have been asked many times how the memory recovery process works. For me, it is a process. It is almost scientific. It starts the same way for every memory. I usually get joint pain. I call it “trauma body.” On the bad days, it can hurt to walk. When I was in my 20s, I thought I had arthritis. I probably did. It was arthritis caused by trauma.
Next, I get an unexplained burst of raw emotion. It could be any emotion. I will feel rage or extreme sadness which can provoke depression or suicidal thoughts. A turning point for my recovery process was the realization that these emotions were not associated with the present moment. Honestly, it is probably that realization that has saved my life.
Once the emotion passes, I start to get a glimpse of a place. It could be a place that I have already remembered. These days, after so many memories, it usually is. But the new memory will add a detail, a new person or a new aspect to the place.
The most surprising part of the internal process comes when my external life gets involved. Events from the present moment will serve as reminders of the past memory. I will try to remember a name only to hear it blurted out by a news anchor on the television. I will wonder what someone looked like only to meet an individual that looks just like him or her. I will drive by a house, and suddenly realize that the house is identical to the house in my memory.
When I least expect it, I’ll remember something that will start to piece together a scenario in my mind. At first, it will seem relatively innocent. Maybe it will be a friend or a group of friends or a family event. Maybe it will be a party or a gathering.
Within a day of that understanding, the reality of the memory will hit me like a ton of bricks. It will leave me stunned. My first reaction is always the same: How could I forget that?
When I started my recovery, I would get frustrated when the memory recovery would start. I used to see the memories as a problem to be solved. I used to see them as reliving my pain. I don’t anymore. Now, I see that my inner child feels comfortable enough to share new information with me. Now, I see memory recovery as another chance to heal from my trauma and integrate as a whole being.
Do I wish I could spend my adult life without this process? Sure. But I can’t keep my head in the sand. With every memory comes physical and emotional relief. I am healing on all levels. I don’t want to run away from that. I have been running for 30 years. It is time to remember. It is time to heal.